Ten years ago today one of the most remarkable people I have ever known celebrated his 35th birthday. His name was Marc Weinberg and sadly it would be his final birthday. Just two weeks later he finally succumbed to an illness he had been battling bravely for nearly three years. That birthday was a sad day for myself and my family – I remember my parents returning from visiting him in hospital that day as he tried to eat his birthday chocolate cake, realising that the end was near.
Seven years ago today my eldest son was born. The incredible joy of that day was soon joined by the recognition of the immense responsibility of raising a child. Regardless of one’s profession and training, the birth of a child throws us into becoming full-time educators. We start by teaching our children simple things – how to smile, how to hold a spoon, how to walk. But as life moves on, the challenge of educating our children increases exponentially.
For those who never knew Marc it is so difficult to describe him in a few short words but for now I will just say that Marc lived and breathed education. But while many will remember Marc as someone who enabled others to learn from great educators, my abiding memories of him are as the educator himself. When I began secondary school, I, and later my siblings, had the privilege of regular lessons with Marc in our home. It was a privilege that I did not appreciate at the age of 11 but over the years I have looked back on lessons I learnt from Marc and realise that they are at the core of who I am today. In honour of his and my son’s birthdays I’d like to share a thought about education that I believe was a key part of Marc’s success.
In Parshat Shelach Lecha we read of the disastrous expedition of the spies who went ahead to scout the Land of Israel. When they returned, ten of them began to present a very negative view of the Israelites chances of successfully conquering the land. One can picture the scene: a people who had suffered tremendously over the years but had been given hope by being led away from slavery by Moshe are suddenly having that hope torn apart by ten charismatic leaders. In the middle of this uproar, another spy, Calev makes himself and gives a rousing speech encouraging the people to try and conquer the land (Bamidbar 13:30).
While he did not manage to ultimately convince them, he did succeed in having them listen to what he had to say. As an educator that is crucial – we hope to raise critical thinkers who may not always agree with us but it’s always crucial to get a student to listen. How did Calev achieve that? Rashi fills in the blank – Calev began by calling out to the people, “Is this the only thing the son of Amram has done to us?!” The people went silent, expecting him to continue with further criticisms of Moshe which they were keen to hear in that moment. Instead, he continued by reminding them, “Did he not divide the sea for us, and bring down the Manna for us, and collect the quails for us?!”
The lesson is simple but essential. If one is to hear what we have to say, they must believe that we are on their side. If at any moment a student feels that what is being said is adversarial they will close off immediately and stop listening. This is, of course, easier said than done, particularly as a parent. Many times we find ourselves trying to teach lessons in moments of frustration, unintentionally creating a ‘me vs. you’ dynamic which will fall on deaf ears at best. While Calev’s success in getting the people to listen to him stemmed from him making a statement to convince the people that he was on their side, that does not always need to be the case.
I think back to many of my interactions with Marc and, to be honest, there were a lot of disagreements. As a teenager for much of our relationship I was exploring and testing different ideas and, as you can imagine, Marc tried to knock some sense into me. But there was much more to it than that. Marc was incredibly passionate and believed strongly in all his values – if you did not see things the same way he would work hard to help you see another point of view. In fact, the last time I ever saw him, weak as he was from undergoing treatment, we had a lively debate about the importance of mixed singles events! But what shone through in all our interactions was that Marc was always on my team and always wanted what was best for me. No matter the disagreement, the passionate arguments or the heated debates, what shone through was his willingness to give me his time and energy to try and understand our complicated world just a little better.
I pray that I can do the same with my children and anyone else I have the merit to try and teach.